Orange scarves. Orange hats. Orange plastic raincoats. Orange ribbons. Demonstrators in Ukraine displayed anything splashed with the color of the country's opposition, apparently robbed of the country's presidency. When they flooded Kiev by the hundreds of thousands for days, they made history.
The nonstop, 24-hour-a-day protests that centered in Kiev's Independence Square began on Nov. 22. What sparked them: a fraudulent run-off presidential election a day earlier between Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and reformist candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Electoral authorities declared the prime minister the winner despite widespread reports-verified by Western monitors-of ballot-box stuffing and voters casting ballots in more than one precinct. The fact that Mr. Yushchenko had won the first round on Oct. 31 also made the run-off result suspicious.
For many of Mr. Yushchenko's supporters, believed to be the majority, the stakes were simple but high: Would Ukraine follow increasingly autocratic Russia, or model itself after the West? "We're speaking here of democracy," said Ivan Bespalov, pastor of Kiev's Presbyterian Church of the Holy Trinity. "If the former power continues to be in charge of the country, there will be similar conditions to what we had in the last 10 years. But with a new president, they hope Ukraine will make a huge step toward democracy, toward market reform and against corruption."
The world also recognized that the electoral outcome would carve out Ukraine's political path. International observers swiftly condemned the balloting, and the United States and Europe leaned on the Ukrainian government to examine irregularities before deciding the winner. As Ukrainians waited for their Supreme Court to rule on vote-rigging complaints-11,000 filed nationwide by the opposition-they turned to lawmakers. On Dec. 1, in its second attempt and after some protesters flooded the lobby, the parliament passed a no-confidence vote on Mr. Yanukovych and dismissed him. They opted to create an interim government.
The week after the election saw some of Mr. Yanukovych's heaviest backers desert him as the protests continued. His campaign manager quit, and outgoing president Leonid Kuchma, who had anointed the prime minister as his successor, formally called for a new election. Even the state-controlled TV station went on strike on Nov. 25, inspired by one deaf interpreter who refused to repeat the newscast's claim that Mr. Yanukovych had won: "The results announced by the Central Election Commission are rigged," she signed instead. "Do not believe them." Now most stations are telling the truth.
Ukrainian diplomats around the world also rebelled. Led by four in Washington, at least 60 signed a letter protesting the results and supporting the demonstrators. The political counselor in Washington, Oleksandr Potiekhin, described the foreign ministry as being in a "state of revolution."
For the thousands of protesters staging their "Orange Revolution," the victories were stacking up. They set up a tent city around Independence Square, prepared to draw crucial world attention with a round-the-clock vigil. They persevered for days in subfreezing temperatures, winning food and medicines from sympathetic citizens throughout the vigil. When about 15,000 Yanukovych supporters turned out, the sheer number of their opponents reportedly awed many of them.
"Most of the people who take part in the demonstration are not aggressive at all," explained Mr. Bespalov, a former Communist youth leader and atheist turned Christian. "There's an atmosphere of joy and hope. I would say if you did not know the reasons for the protest, you would think it is a festival."
Yushchenko supporters were determined to show the best face of nonviolent resistance. Hard drinking was out, a feat in a country ridden with alcoholism, and courteous behavior was in.
Ukraine's mass demonstrations were reminiscent of those across Eastern Europe that brought down the Berlin Wall 15 years ago last month. They mirror those held in Georgia exactly one year ago, when protesters launched a "Rose Revolution" to oust President Eduard Shevardnadze after a fraudulent parliamentary election. In Kiev, some demonstrators carried Georgian flags. The protesters even won approval from veteran democracy fighters Lech Walesa of Poland's Solidarity movement and Czech anti-communist and former president Vaclav Havel.
The election itself saw support for each candidate splitting down the country's middle, with the largely Russian-speaking East and South supporting Mr. Yanukovych and the West and center, including Kiev, backing Mr. Yushchenko. But Serhiy Basarab, a Ukrainian translator with Music Mission, a ministry based in Kiev, said he saw protesters from all over the country. Fundamentally, he explained, Ukrainians are tired of their corrupt, heavy-handed government.
"The basic thing that actually unifies many people is the desire to see officials we can trust and who will inspire us and lead us," he told WORLD. Mr. Basarab and his wife took cold and flu medicines and trash bags to protesters, and wore orange ribbons on their bags in support of Mr. Yushchenko. "There's been a surge of Ukrainian nationalism," said Mr. Basarab, who sang the national anthem and Lord's Prayer with protesters one day. "I would say that this is the true birth of the Ukrainian identity. Ukraine has begun to establish itself as a true country."
Such hope for change has long been incubating. After decades of Russian control, Ukraine established its independence in 1917, but soon fell under Soviet rule again. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine reemerged as a nation.
Leonid Kuchma became president three years later, serving two terms. But his administration could not shake its Soviet legacy, dogged by cronyism and corruption. Living standards declined steadily until four years ago, and income-per-head is still only $970 a year. Mr. Kuchma himself has been plagued by his apparent complicity in the 2000 death of an investigative journalist, Georgiy Gongadze. Audiotapes of the leader secretly made by his bodyguard suggested he wanted his security services to dispose of the journalist.
His would-be successors pit continuity against change. Mr. Yanukovych is an imposing 6-foot-6-inch Easterner and engineer, who speaks Russian and hails from a poor background. In the '60s he had two criminal convictions for violent crimes that were later overturned, and has a reputation for colorful language. During the election campaign he referred to his opponents as "those bastards who are preventing us from living properly." He is popular among miners of the East, the center of industrialization in Soviet times, who have seen their incomes increase under the recently deposed prime minister.
Russian president Vladimir Putin also threw his state backing behind Mr. Yanukovych, meddling blatantly in the Ukrainian political process. Twice he visited the country to support Mr. Yanukovych during the election campaign. Twice Mr. Putin congratulated him on his victory, even before all the votes were counted and while fraud allegations mounted. The Russian leader has his own plans to reconstitute Ukraine as part of a post-Soviet Russian sphere of influence.
By contrast, the West favors Mr. Yushchenko, a trained accountant and former prime minister himself. During his two-year tenure, he introduced a strong new Ukrainian currency and began attacking corruption. His popular campaign was up against the state-influenced media machinery. But just weeks before the election he suffered what his team claims was an attempted poisoning, which transformed him from a dashing, black-haired politician to a graying, craggy-faced fighter.
Regardless of Ukraine's final winner, the protesters may have set off a chain reaction toward greater freedom and democracy. "I'm convinced that this is a very historical time that we're going through," Mr. Bespalov said. "To see such a demonstration of people in the street and nobody oppressing it gives me hope that democracy is winning in Ukraine." Mr. Basarab agrees: More evident than the grab bag of orange items people wore was their "orange spirit"-a newfound longing for democracy.